Antarctica is a natural laboratory for studying the small number of plant and animal species that live in communities. Microbial life, invisible to the naked eye, plays a vital role in Antarctic ecosystems. State-of-the-art genetic methods to study the DNA of these microbes may lead to discoveries that could help in the production of new antibiotics and other compounds.

Remote and hostile, Antarctica harbours some of the most amazing creatures on the planet. It is also a powerful natural laboratory for studying biodiversity, evolution and the impacts of climate change. Cut off from the rest of planet, Antarctica’s isolation and its cold climate have allowed some unique species to evolve.

Mostly covered in ice and snow, Antarctica is the driest, coldest and windiest continent on Earth. Little of its land surface can support life, so the communities of plants and animals that survive there consist of only a small number of species living in simple relationships. Because of the simplicity of these communities, Antarctica is an exceptionally useful place for scientists to uncover how ecosystems work.

Some of the creatures in these communities are particularly interesting. Known as nematodes, their ancestors survived on tiny areas of land left uncovered during the last ice ages, more than one million years ago. By studying these nematodes, scientists at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are able to increase our understanding of evolution and help reconstruct Antarctica’s glacial history.

Unlike the land, the seas around Antarctica are home to a rich and diverse group of species that have evolved some unique ways of coping with the cold. Some Antarctic fish, for example, are the only vertebrates in the world that do not use red blood cells to carry oxygen around their bodies.

But because they are so well adapted to the cold, some of these species may not be able to cope with life in a warmer world. Climate change is likely to have a major impact on Antarctic species. From their research stations on and around the Antarctic Peninsula – one of the fastest warming parts of the planet – BAS scientists are well placed to study how these species are responding to climate change.

Compared with our understanding of the continent’s plants and animals, we know very little about Antarctica’s microbial life. Invisible to the naked eye, these organisms play a vital role in Antarctic ecosystems and, because they may help us produce new antibiotics and other compounds, are rich but untapped resource. At BAS, scientists are using state-of-the-art genetic methods to study the DNA of these microbes and, hopefully, harness their potential.

Continuous Plankton Recorder

Contemporary research has shown that the Southern Ocean is warming. Summer surface temperatures have risen by more than 1 degree Centigrade in the last 80 years and a strong upper-layer …

Krill Hotspots

Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) are a key component of the food chain throughout much of the Southern Ocean. These small, shrimp-like animals occur in dense swarms, but their distribution is …

White-chinned Petrel Tracking

The white-chinned petrel is the most common bird species recorded as fisheries bycatch in the Southern Ocean [1]. Although currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, limited population trend data …


The South Orkney Islands is a small archipelago located in the Southern Ocean, 375 miles north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The seafloor around the South Orkney Islands …

The Heated Settlement Panels

How will life and biodiversity on Earth will respond to climate change? This information is particularly urgent for the waters along the Antarctic Peninsula, which are experiencing rapid regional climate …


European Marine Biological Resource Centre

Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Sea-Surface

  In order to assess the impact of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) on the oceans today we are investigating the effect of decreasing upper ocean pH on calcifying zooplankton. Pteropods, …


South Georgia Marine Biodiversity Database (SGMarBase)


Pushing forward our understanding of calcium production in the marine environment


The Southern Ocean Network of Acoustics (SONA) represents a group of scientific institutes and industrial partners who have united to measure an under-sampled component of the ecosystem – the mid-trophic …


visualising BAS polar data sets to create art works that engage, inform and inspire

Antarctic Seabed Carbon Capture Change

The ASCCC Project  has been funded by ACE (Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition) to investigate, quantify and understand the role of polar and subpolar seabeds in the carbon cycle, particularly in response …


18 May, 2015

Reports suggest that climate change is putting penguins in peril. Scientists at British Antarctic Survey investigating long-term changes in penguin populations report what’s happening to these iconic birds. Are penguin …


18 May, 2015

All but seven of the world’s 22 species of albatross are threatened with extinction, mainly because of commercial fishing activity. British Antarctic Survey science and technology underpins international efforts to …